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American Taleban Appears in US Court - 2002-01-24

The American Taleban member, John Walker Lindh, has made his first appearance in a U.S. courtroom. Mr. Walker told a federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia, that he understood the four charges against him, charges that include conspiring to kill Americans overseas and aiding terrorist organizations.

John Walker Lindh's initial court appearance came amid heavy security in and around the Alexandria courthouse, just outside Washington. Mr. Walker looked vastly different from his previous pictures. His beard was shaved and his hair was cut short.

Prior to facing a judge, Mr. Walker met with his parents for the first time since his return from Afghanistan.

His mother, Marilyn Walker, spoke to reporters outside the courthouse. "It has been two years since I last saw my son. It was wonderful to see him this morning," he said. "My love for him is unconditional and absolute, and I am grateful to God that he has been brought home to his family."

Mr. Walker's father, Frank Lindh, says he found his son in good physical shape. He also says his son loves America. "John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American and he never did harm any American," he said. "John is innocent of these charges."

But prosecutors are prepared to paint a very different picture of John Walker, thanks in large part to statements the 20-year-old reportedly made to federal investigators and the news media after his capture in Afghanistan.

Attorney General John Ashcroft was asked about the Walker case at a Washington news conference.

"Our complaint is clear," he said. "John Walker chose to join the terrorists who wanted to kill Americans and he chose to waive his right to an attorney, both orally and in writing, before his statement to the FBI. Mr. Walker will be held responsible for those choices in court."

But John Walker's attorney, James Brosnahan, takes issue with the government's contention that his client had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer.

"From December 2, John Lindh asked for a lawyer, repeatedly asked for a lawyer, and the officials who have commented on this case, and it is not a personal matter, the officials who have commented on this case knew that," he said.

Legal experts say the prosecution's case will likely hinge on the statements Mr. Walker allegedly gave to federal investigators and the news media, in which he admitted fighting with the Taleban and receiving training from al-Qaida terrorists.

Charles Rosenberg is a former federal prosecutor who was interviewed on NBC's Today program.

"Walker was interviewed by the FBI on December 9 and 10, apparently quite a lengthy and detailed interview," he said. "In conjunction with the statements he gave to CNN and whatever other evidence the government may have, if that December 9 and 10 interview comes in [as evidence in the trial], Mr. Walker is in serious hurt [trouble]."

But other experts say Mr. Walker's attorneys have a good chance of blocking his statements from becoming evidence on the grounds that he was denied legal counsel.

Peter Keane is Dean of the Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco and a friend of Mr. Walker's attorney, James Brosnahan.

The government's whole case depends upon the admissibility of Walker's statements", Mr. Keane said on CBS television. "The fact that Walker was kept from his lawyer for two months could result in those statements being held [as] involuntary. If the statements can not come in [as evidence], the government has no case against Walker."

John Walker Lindh has been ordered held in custody until his next court appearance on February 6.